OTTAWA—The Liberal government won’t be taking a permissive approach to medically-assisted dying in long-awaited new legislation to be unveiled as early as next week, The Canadian Press has learned.
Sources, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the imminent bill, say it won’t adopt some of the most controversial recommendations from a special parliamentary committee.
That committee urged the government in February to place few obstacles in front Canadians who want medical help to end their suffering.
The legislation—likely to be introduced late next week—is expected to stipulate that only competent adults should be eligible to receive a doctor’s help to end their lives.
It will not allow people diagnosed with competence-impairing conditions like dementia to make advance requests for medical help to die, which the committee advocated.
Nor will it include “mature minors.” The committee had recommended that after further consultations, the legislation be expanded to include older minors within three years of the bill becoming law.
In rejecting those recommendations, the government appears to be sticking to the strict letter of a Supreme Court ruling, which concluded last year that Canada’s ban on assisted suicide violates the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
The court gave the federal government until Feb. 6, 2016—later extended to June 6—to come up with a new law that recognizes the right of clearly-consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.
“As Liberals, we stand to defend individuals’ rights, but also need to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“Any legislation that we put forward will be based on that.”
Trudeau added he’s confident the government can meet the June 6 deadline while providing for “a fulsome, responsible debate that involves the voices that need to be heard on this issue.”
The parliamentary committee tried to encompass what Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the committee chair, described as the “spirit” of the court ruling—anticipating future charter challenges that could arise if the new law is too restrictive.
On that score, the committee concluded that denying those with dementia the right to make advance directives would mean leaving them “to suffer or end their lives prematurely” while still sufficiently competent to consent.
“This situation was exactly what the [Supreme Court] decision sought to avoid,” the committee’s final report said.
Similarly, the committee noted the top court already has recognized the right of mature minors to make some end-of-life decisions, and expressed concern that denying them the right to medically-assisted death would violate their charter rights.
The committee also recommended that a new law should apply to Canadians enduring intolerable suffering from grievous and irremediable medical conditions, including terminal and non-terminal physical and psychological conditions.
The new law is expected to spell out more stringent eligibility criteria.